Nailing Nutrition Analysis In 3 Simple Steps

Lawrence Judd

What you’re in for:

  • ~1500 words
  • 5-10 minutes reading time 

Let’s ditch the small talk. You’re not stupid – you know that nutrition analysis is a key part of your clients’ successes. You’ll have heard the “80% diet, 20% training” dogma thrown around – in reality, the two are equally important when it comes to maximizing your clients’ results.

Training provides the stimulus, and nutrition is permissive.

It pays to get it right – and that starts from the moment your client first sits down with you in a consultation. Get your nutrition analysis right, and you’ll save a lot of work further down the line.

Want this info in video format instead? Click here to jump to the bottom of the page, where we’ve taken an excerpt from the Shredded By Science Academy module on this very topic. There’s also a sample nutrition questionnaire to download for free.


Throw Out The Word “Diet”

What do your clients think when they hear the word “diet?”

Ask them, and they’ll probably reel off a string of diets. Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Paleo, Atkins…

We asked our Shreducation members what they thought of when they heard the word “diet” and they gave us this list:

  • Not Sustainable
  • Restricting foods
  • Clean Eating
  • Good & Bad foods
  • Obsessing over foods
  • Starving yourself
  • Low carb
  • Chicken, broccoli & brown rice

The true meaning of the word “diet” has been somewhat obscured in its modern interpretation. It actually comes from the Greek word “diaeta”, meaning manner of living – or lifestyle! However, our current interpretation promotes the idea of short-term fixes, often with names; not what we want to be promoting as a part of a sustainable approach to nutrition.

Our advice? Maybe stop using the word diet with your clients. Let them choose what to call it – give them some autonomy over the process. Research shows that having autonomy over something increases your intrinsic motivation – surely a good thing when it comes to clients adhering to their nutrition guidelines?

Want to know more about intrinsic motivation? I wrote an article about it here – Why Fitspiration Is Killing Your Motivationthat’s been shared nearly 2,500 times.

Total Recall

The next step is getting your initial food diary recall right from the off. It’s really important to get a well-rounded picture of how your clients eat habitually in order for you to work together to find a solution for them.

The key to this initial food diary recall is duration. Too short, and you won’t get a complete picture; too long, and your clients will lose focus towards the end of the week, which is the time that they’re potentially most likely to indulge in habits that need to be changed!

We’ve found that a 4 day food diary provides a great balance between accuracy and effort on the part of the client. We ask for prospective clients to log their food on:

  • A sample day on which they exercise
  • A sample day on which they don’t exercise
  • A full weekend (a.k.a. what do they do on Saturday night, and how does alcohol affect their next day’s food intake?)

Need a sample 4 day food diary template? Click the icon below to download one for free. No logos on it, no email address to give away – you can have this one on us.

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PPF It – Past, Present Future

When it comes to formulating your initial guidelines with clients, it’s vital to take into account their past, what’s happening right now and also what’s going to happen in the future.


When looking at your clients’ dieting histories, we need to assess:

  • Previous Diets/Training – Have they been on any diets before? What sort of training experience do they have? This will give us some indication as to their nutritional “age” – i.e. how well they understand nutrition, training, and how the two interlink.
  • Their relationship with food – by asking the right open-ended questions, we can start to pry into how they view food. Do they have a balanced view of food? Do they view foods as “good” and “bad”? If they over-eat, or eat something “bad”, is there a reaction? Do they have to go and “exercise it off?
  • Allergies and intolerances – you don’t need to test for these yourself; you’re not qualified to do allergy testing, and the current “intolerance tests” you can buy aren’t generally worth the paper they’re printed on. Generally, people with allergies will know about them (and had them diagnosed by a medical professional), and will know if there are foods which cause gastro-intestinal upset.
  • Weight history – the effects of “yo-yo” dieting aren’t particularly well known, certainly in terms of metabolic rate. There is evidence both for and against weight cycling having a negative effect on metabolic rate. However, yo-yo dieting can also be symptomatic of an altered attitude towards food, which may be more of an issue.


This is simply digging deep into what your clients are doing right now:

  • Current diet – this is one of the most important things you need to clarify, hence my emphasis on getting a good initial food diary. It will form the foundation of your starting point with each individual client, so it’s imperative to get a full picture. Do they have any idea of their calorie intake? Do they track their food intake? What is their dietary variety like?
  • Maintenance calorie intake – understanding roughly how many calories your client needs to maintain their current bodyweight is really important to guide them on any weight loss or weight gain journey. It’s a good idea to have a calculated guesstimate, as the value you’ll get from food diaries is unlikely to be accurate enough.
  • Personal preference – What foods do they like and dislike? Are there any foods that they can’t control their intake of? If they were to visualize their “Perfect Day”, what would they eat? Understanding your clients’ preferences when it comes to food will help you both formulate nutrition guidelines around foods they enjoy.
  • Body composition and current fitness levels – again, this is just another tool to help you “paint a picture” of where your client is at, and tailor their nutrition accordingly. If they’re relatively lean, quite fit and active already, then your nutrition guidelines are likely to be different than for someone who is significantly overweight, unfit and sedentary.


Planning the future together with your client helps create “buy-in” to the process. If the client doesn’t trust in the guidelines you create together, then they’ll find it incredibly difficult to adhere to them. As we know, adherence is the foundation of ALL successful nutrition.

The cornerstones of planning your clients’ future guidelines are:

  • Get the client involved – it’s their lifestyle, after all; they need input.
  • Managing the client’s expectations – a lot of clients will come to you wanting to achieve goals within time-frames that simply aren’t realistic. Using questions to guide the client to realizing for themselves that these goals aren’t realistic (such as asking “What happened last time you tried to lose 7kg in 2 weeks?) is going to create more buy-in, and make the client feel more empowered than simply telling them that their ideas are unrealistic.
  • Deciding how much support and education they need – more experienced clients may need less nutrition support, whereas more beginner clients may require a much higher level of interaction with you as they get to grips with their new lifestyle. Supplemental information packs regarding nutrition may also be helpful, depending on the client’s nutritional age and how interested they are in learning more.
  • Planning around life stresses/changes in routine – again, this goes back to the point of adherence. When attempting to implement new habits, or change old ones, stress or being thrown out of routine can make your clients revert back to their old habits whilst they deal with the situation. Planning around these and having contingency plans will enable your clients to deal with these situations whilst staying on track.

Need to know how stress can affect your clients’ eating habits? Check out our recent blog post – What Drives My Personal Training Clients To Over-Eat? 

Wrapping Up

Nutritional Analysis needn’t be hard, or complicated; it just needs to be relatively in-depth. Try and obtain as clear a picture of your clients’ food habits as possible, as it’ll help you both go forward and establish a trusting, open, honest working relationship. Be there to support, guide and educate your clients when making their first forays into the often incredibly confusing world of nutrition, and you’ll set the both of you up for success.

SBS Academy Module Excerpt

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